Role Model Theater: For the first time, Robert Foxworth is acting in the same play as his son Bo. Only Bo is anxious about it.

September 29, 1996|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,SUN THEATER CRITIC

Like father, like son.

Despite the cliche, this is the first time Robert and Bo Foxworth, father and son actors, have seen it in action.

Sitting in Center Stage's sunny rehearsal hall, the Foxworths are discussing what it's like to perform together in Bertolt Brecht's "Galileo" -- their first joint acting effort. And it doesn't take Galileo's telescope to pick up on the family resemblance.

Both have reddish-brown beards, although Robert's is a full beard, shaded with gray, and Bo's is a goatee. Both have blue eyes. Both wear jeans and T-shirts. And both keep inadvertently duplicating each other's gestures.

The characters they are portraying in "Galileo" aren't precisely those of father and son -- but close enough. Robert is playing the title role and Bo is his devoted disciple, Andrea Sarti. The Brecht epic opens Wednesday in Center Stage's Pearlstone Theater.

Bo admits he was anxious about sharing the stage with his dad. "I started therapy about a month before," kids the 31-year-old actor, two years out of Yale School of Drama. "He is a pretty intimidating theater personality, but I'd heard he wasn't hard to work with."

Robert, on the other hand, wasn't the least bit apprehensive: "I was excited about the prospect, but I also was going to approach it like any other situation, knowing he's a professional and I'm a professional." Best known for his six years as Chase Gioberti on the CBS night-time soap "Falcon Crest" in the 1980s, Robert, 54, is also a theater veteran, whose stage credits range from Shakespeare and Shaw to Albee and Arthur Miller.

Bo, however, is the Foxworth who indirectly led to the current opportunity when he appeared in "The Show-Off" at Center Stage two seasons ago. "I thought perhaps since Bo had worked here, there might be a chance that he could tell his father about the theater and his father might be more inclined to come," says artistic director Irene Lewis, who is also directing "Galileo."

She adds that she hoped the relationship between Galileo and his fictional young protege "might be an added enticement."

Father and son had been asked to work together before, but had turned down offers from a few other theaters, including a chance appear in Chekhov's "The Seagull." "Galileo," however, felt right.

Although Robert regrets that the roles aren't closer in size -- Galileo is far larger than any other in the play -- Bo says the bond between Galileo and Andrea was especially appealing. "In effect, he is my father," he explains.

When the play begins, in Padua in 1609, Andrea is a small boy (played by Alec Scott). The son of Galileo's housekeeper, Andrea is already thirsty for the knowledge Galileo is discovering about the heavens. Two decades later, under threat of torture by the Inquisition of the Catholic Church, Galileo recants his "heretical" conclusion that the Earth revolves around the sun. And Andrea's worship of his mentor nearly crumbles.

In real life, Robert says, "I never thought of myself as a mentor to Bo. To an extent, the opposite. When he was a kid and said, 'I want to be an actor. Get me into movies or television,' I said, 'No, you're going to have a childhood.' "

Bo, whose full name is Brendon Bogard Foxworth, was born in Pittsburgh, where his parents were students in the theater department at Carnegie-Mellon University. When he was 8, his parents separated, and he and his younger sister grew up mostly in Ferndale, Calif., with their mother, Marilyn McCormick, and spent summers with their father in Los Angeles.

Initially, Bo says, his desire to be an actor "had nothing to do with [Robert]. I learned to love it on my own." School plays led to acting in the local repertory company, and eventually he found himself hopping buses after school football practice to perform in area college and university productions.

When he was 15, Bo says, his parents "discovered where I was heading and wanted to make sure I knew what I was getting myself into." Robert gave his son the same advice he gives student groups: "If you don't have to do it, don't do it."

Bo's dedication was unshakable, however, and his parents were supportive.

This was considerably different from the reaction Robert, a native of Houston, Texas, had received from his father, a roofing contractor, and his mother, who was one of the first women to have her own radio show in the South.

Part of his parents' dissatisfaction, Robert suspects, came from his skipping school to work on plays. But, ironically, his interest in theater was kindled by his parents, both of whom worked at Houston's Alley Theatre -- his mother as a publicist and his father building sets. "That was their mistake -- taking me to the theater and letting me sleep backstage when they worked," he says.

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